River of Grace Community Church in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province (Yonhap)
Mainstream Protestant church groups -- the National Council of Churches in Korea and the United Christian Churches of Korea -- apologized to the public on Thursday for the COVID-19 clusters that formed at churches.
The statement also said the organizations hoped to normalize group activities and worship services from April 6.
The joint statement followed an increase in the number of novel coronavirus clusters in South Korea this week among those attending Protestant church services. As of Friday, the government had confirmed 66 coronavirus cases linked to the River of Grace Community Church in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province.
“Some churches have caused cluster infections of COVID-19, which has put the safety of church members and citizens of the area at risk. It also damaged people’s trust in Korean churches,” the two Christian groups said in the statement. “We apologize for this incident to the authorities and the people.”
The statement also said, “We hope for all the churches to be responsible and make sure that this kind of incident is not repeated.”
Explaining why the religious groups had chosen April 6 as the date for the resumption of normal operations at churches, an NCCK official told The Korea Herald, “It is when schools start and is seen as the right time to normalize the group activities. Also, that day is right after Palm Sunday and also a week before Easter, which is meaningful for churches.
“But that is just our goal, for now. We will have to watch the current virus situation and adjust accordingly,” he added.
Meanwhile, some megachurches and church organizations have pledged to financially assist small and midsized churches as the recent clusters occurred mostly in churches that could not stop holding Sunday services due to financial constraints, including rent payments. Suspending Sunday services inevitably leads to a significant drop in offerings collected from congregants.
Thursday’s joint statement said the churches should follow the administrative order from the government of Gyeonggi Province, which mandates that 137 churches meet seven requirements for worship services from Tuesday to March 29.
Churches must provide lists of attendees and their contact numbers. They are not to provide meals but must provide hand sanitizer. The churches are also required to sanitize the facilities before and after each service. Congregants are also required to undergo temperature checks before entering the church, to wear masks and to maintain a distance of 2 meters from each other.
The two groups also asked the government to prioritize communicating and cooperating with the churches before resorting to using its legal powers.
By Song Seung-hyun (email@example.com